Labor of Love: Hand-Picking Coffee Cherries
Coffee grown in Nepal is selectively hand-picked, which means that only the ripest and most flavorful cherries ever make their way to your delicious cup of coffee!
Coffee cherries need time to ripen and mature in order to develop sweeter, more complex flavors. And, much like a tomato plant, not all cherries on a coffee plant ripen at the same time. Cherry pickers make multiple sweeps of the farm, selectively picking all of the ripe cherries until they have all been harvested. Hand-picking coffee cherries is highly labor intensive, but the importance of using only the freshest cherries to make the highest quality coffee cannot be overlooked.
Around the world, most high quality and specialty coffee farmers prefer hand-picking over machine-picking to harvest coffee cherries. This method allows the not-yet-ripe cherries to remain on the stems, giving them more time to ripen and mature. Over-ripe cherries are also left behind, so that they do not negatively impact the flavor of a coffee. These over-ripe cherries later become compost when they naturally drop to the ground, offering their nutrients back to the plants.
Despite the benefits of selective hand-picking, machine-picking is still the most commonly used method for picking cherries worldwide. Machines indiscriminately strip or shake entire sections of cherries from the coffee branches into collection bins. Although more efficient, this method can lead to cherry waste and quality control issues. But, the mass production of coffee in some countries and especially in wealthier ones makes the use of such machines inevitable and even necessary. For others, finding enough employees to pick cherries is an impossible task. And, then there are places where the costs of labor makes hand-picking cost prohibitive.
In Nepal however, coffee cherry picking provides much needed employment opportunities for individuals and especially women living in rural areas. Women's portion of the workforce in the coffee sector in Nepal is estimated to be as high as 90 percent!
Some research courtesy of Plantec Coffee Estate.